Innocence and Experience

When I first thought of asking others to join me in writing posts about the choice to be a stay at home mother (or not) I made a conscious choice to ask a few women who were in a similar stage of life. I knew that these women in particular would most likely have something to write and a desire to share their thoughts, that they would have a little time to do so, and that they would balance out my perspective. I also thought about the fact that while we most often focus on experience, there is still something keenly interesting about innocence.

But I could not have been more delighted when certain women with experience joined in the conversation. There is something to be said for shedding innocence for the beautiful brokenness of experience. I loved the way that Claire highlighted this in a recent comment:

Mostly, when I think about my own expectations, happiness and disappointments, I am struck again by how parenthood–and perhaps specifically motherhood, although I don’t know—is a vocation of particular weakness. I mean that it is so very ordinary, and yet it involves so much daily heroism, and that it is entirely overwhelming and exhausting to the point where no single individual could ever perform at their best ALL the time, and that it causes you to want to be your best and also just curl into a tiny ball and hide…

Some of the weakness that are exposed are a result of failure or personal inadequacies, and others a natural part of living in a body that is so very limited. Infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, recovery–these are things that enrich women’s lives but that women rarely really control. And all the “issues” involved with those only begin to come to the surface once they have bound themselves to a man, because they only exist in relationship…

Reality changes things. Relationships change things. And somehow, some way, we must find the beauty in or through what may feel like endless exhausting failures.

What I most appreciated about Claire’s comment was the way she honed in on what exactly it is that one needs to be happy. Sometimes change is necessary for happiness, but often I find that my parents’ admonition holds true: if you’re not happy with what you have now, it is unlikely that you will be happy when you get what it is you think you want.

I guess one of the main things I have realized in my own journey of having to adjust my expectations of what motherhood/marriage would be like is this: I need to uncover the ROOT of my hopes and dreams. I am not alone in this, I know. It is not really that I thought I would have a career that now I may not have ( I am young and I may very well go back to school at some point). It is the sense of being wronged that I felt that first year of staying at home with an inconsolable infant that is what I need to address: why does that make me unhappy? Did I really need to be in school (and eventually have that job) to be happy or did I need parenthood to be easier so that I could feel more competent?

In short: what are the conditions on my happiness that I still hold on to? Given that life is full of small and big upsets, can I use them to uncover what my real priorities can and should be?

The truth is that when I examine my life’s goals–where I would like to be at the end of it, what I would hope to have learned– these are already being met now, although in a way completely different from the route I would have taken to achieve them. And this path is much harder because it is so boring, and so ordinary. Service to the most helpless and “poor” in society? Check. A chance to live each day contemplating the intersection of the divine and the human and meditating on the life of Christ? Right here. Learning about love and gift and selflessness and diving headlong into it, even though it exposes my deepest fears and inadequacies? It’s all here, if I choose to acknowledge it.

And that, my friends, is a voice of experience rather than innocence.

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4 thoughts on “Innocence and Experience

  1. Sarah

    That’s beautiful. I think something I’ve realized is that, getting the thing you want (in this case, getting pregnant) doesn’t suddenly make you holier. I thought, “oh, once I get pregnant all the pieces of my prayer life will fall together.” Ha! I still struggle with prayer as much as I did before the pregnancy.

    This is such a valuable post.

  2. Michelle

    what a fabulous perspective (and thanks for the shout-out). I have contemplated on more than one occasion the value of contentment in the present. Contentment is one of those things that our society eschews…always trying to convince us to search for the next thing to find something wrong with our current situation. It’s going against the grain to simply accept with love the blessings bestowed in God’s time.

  3. Philomena Ewing

    This is fantastic . It has so much to say on so many levels. There is a vital core of wisdom here.
    Thank you so much.I don’t have children but I had to retire early for health reasons and I had a real sense of guilt and frustration for a long time and I think your post has a broader relevance to all people who find themselves stuck with unresolved dreams. As Ron Rolheiser says, we are creatures of tortured complexity!!
    Please visit my blog if you have time. I would welcome your comments.

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